A handful of Metro Council members –– led by those campaigning for higher offices ––made it clear Tuesday they don’t want their fingerprints on Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed property tax hike.
But other than that, the council’s 30-4 vote, with three abstentions, Tuesday to approve the mayor’s property tax increase on the first of three required votes amounted to very little. The same can be said for the 30-3 vote to sign off on the mayor’s $1.71 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Both actions were made to advance the proposals to the council’s committee system. Even a few anti-tax council members voted for the tax hike. Though Dean’s proposed 53-cent increase to Metro’s combined property tax rate will now move on to a crucial second of three votes in June, Tuesday’s initial vote didn’t signal a clear ringing endorsement.
“It doesn’t mean much to the outcome,” At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said of the night’s events. “What you saw was the council members that are running for other offices this summer wanting to be ‘Nos’ ”
Under council procedure, virtually all legislation is approved on first reading to move the items to council committees for further debate.
Moreover, according to the Metro charter, the budget would automatically become law if the council were to vote down the mayor’s budget ordinance on first reading.
Despite these well-known facts, some council members spoke up Tuesday to go on record either opposing or abstaining on first reading operating budget that would be funded by the first property tax increase since 2005.
Three council members who chose this path were Darren Jernigan, Jason Potts and Bo Mitchell, who are all running as Democrats for House seats in the Republican-dominated state legislature. Politically, a vote for a tax hike  –– apparently of any kind –– could hand red meat to their opponents.
“So many of my constituents that were decimated by the flood two years ago were literally under water then and are figuratively under water now,” Mitchell told The City Paper of his vote Tuesday. “Economically, I don’t think some of my folks can handle any more coming out of their paycheck.
Asked why he didn’t approve the budget to simply move it to committee, Mitchell pointed to public sentiment: “I’ve heard from a substantial number of my constituents asking me to say, ‘No.’ ”
Jernigan abstained from voting on the budget proposal and the separate tax levy ordinance. Potts voted against both. Mitchell, meanwhile, abstained from voting on Dean’s budget but voted against the tax increase proposal.
In addition, Councilman Robert Duvall voted against Dean’s budget and against a property tax increase. He’s also running for a state House seat. But as a conservative Republican and longtime anti-tax crusader, his votes were more predictable.
The other no-vote on the budget and tax levy ordinance was Councilman Tony Tenpenny. In addition, council members Duane Dominy and Karen Johnson abstained from voting on either item.
Absent for Tuesday’s votes were council members Erica Gilmore, Edith Langster and Emily Evans.